The San Francisco 49ers had one of the most impressive wins in the opening week of the 2015 NFL season, but few teams find themselves as a bigger underdog in Week 2. They’ll visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, facing a team that is looking to rebound from a loss in the first week.
San Francisco upset the Minnesota Vikings, 20-3, improving to 1-0 with a win at Levi’s Stadium. Pittsburgh visited New England in the very first game of the year, falling to the defending champs, 28-21.
After being the biggest underdogs in Week 1, the Steelers are favored by 5.5 points in Week 2, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under is 45 points.
No Bell, No Problem
The Steelers will be without star running back Le’Veon Bell for one more game before he returns from his suspension. Bell was integral in helping Pittsburgh rank second in total offense last year, posting at least 100 yards from scrimmage in all but three games. The Steelers would have benefited from using Bell against the Patriots, but his replacement exceeded expectations.
DeAngelo Williams was one of the best running backs in Week 1, rushing 21 times for 127 yards. The 32-year-old was once a 1,000-yard rusher for the Carolina Panthers, but he hasn’t even rushed for 850 yards in a season since 2010. The season opener marked his best rushing total since Dec. 20, 2012.
Williams claims he lost 15 pounds in the offseason, which could explain why he looked quicker than usual against New England. He was the oldest Week 1 starting running back, and having three extra days rest should help keep him fresh for one more start.
Hyde Leads 49ers' Offense
As good as Williams was for the Steelers, the 49ers’ running back played even better. Carlos Hyde, who has replaced the departed Frank Gore as San Francisco’s starter, was the NFL’s leading rusher in Week 1. He totaled 168 yards on 26 carries, scoring two touchdowns.
Hyde took control in the second half after Reggie Bush left the game with a calf injury. The veteran suffered a strain, not a tear, making the injury less serious than originally feared. It’s still unknown if he’ll be able to play on Sunday.
Before Hyde picked up 116 rushing yards in the final two quarters, the 49ers were struggling to move the ball. Colin Kaepernick was efficient, completing 17 of his 26 pass attempts, but he only threw for 165 yards.
How Good Is San Francisco's Defense?
The 49ers have become known for their stifling defense, posting a top-five defense in each of the last four seasons. But with the departure of head coach Jim Harbaugh and some of their top players, San Francisco was expected to take a big step back in 2015. Through one game, that hasn’t been the case.
Despite losing players like Justin Smith, Chris Borland, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis, the 49ers surrendered fewer points than any team in Week 1. They rank fourth in total yards allowed, and they limited Adrian Peterson to 31 yards on 10 attempts.
Eric Mangini's unit will have a tougher test after facing the still-developing Teddy Bridgewater in the opening week. Veteran Ben Roethlisberger threw for 351 yards in defeat, and Antonio Brown followed up his nearly 1,700-yard season with nine catches for 133 yards in the opener. Minnesota doesn’t have a player on their roster who caught for more than 862 yards in 2014.
San Francisco’s defense could be in for a rude awakening when they visit Pittsburgh, who can move down the field in a hurry. The 49ers will need more than just Hyde to keep up with the Steelers’ offense, and this game could get away from them by the start of the fourth quarter.
Pittsburgh over San Francisco, 30-17